After months of thinking and getting ready, I had finally come to a decision: going freelance was the way. Everybody knew about it by then, and I was already tapping any existing freelancing platform on earth to look for clients.
Sounds great, right? Yes, but.
Have you ever wondered how do you set up a (copywriting) freelance business? Which steps do you take to make your solopreneurial leap successful? How do you plan your work? Which tools do you need? And – most important – how do you get paid? I had no clue.
Here is how I kicked off my entrepreneurial journey. I will share some tips for starting and running a small business. I will also include a couple of sources that pertain to a writing business specifically.
My approach might not work for everybody, but it has worked for me, and I think it may help other newbies out there.
Right, that’s enough talk. Let’s get on with it!
N.B. What follows is a handout of what I believe the minimum requirements of an online business are. It goes without saying that setting up a traditional physical business requires way more planning in terms of startup costs, personnel, and logistics.
1. Set up a professional email address
Okay, I am almost ashamed for mentioning it, but you really need a professional email address. The pick of the litter would be a full-option G Suite account with your @businessname email address on it. But if you are on a budget – like I was – a free webmail service would work just as fine.
Side note: it’s your professional address, so it must be… professional.
- Keep it short;
- Use your business/brand name or include any word that would give your potential clients a hint of what your products/services are;
- Check your inbox regularly!
2. Open a PayPal account
What is PayPal? I admit it took me a while to grasp how the system worked!
To keep it simple, stupid: PayPal is a platform that allows you to transfer money without disclosing your bank account or credit card details.
Once you open an account (for free), all you need to send money is the email address of the recipient. Likewise, anyone can send you money using the email address linked to your PayPal account.
The details and the accounts available – I went for a Business one – can be found on the PayPal website, so I will leave it at that. What matters here is why I opted for PayPal.
In a word: I wanted to be where the other people are – read: where potential clients are.
The platform is arguably one of the most popular online payment methods worldwide – and one of the safest. That’s the bandwagon effect: you do/believe/want/use/buy something because others do. Plus, it’s free. Bingo!
3. Spreadsheets, spreadsheets everywhere
Someone once said that “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed,” and I couldn’t agree more. When you start a business, you must keep track of… everything.
What follows is a recap of my spreadsheets, aka four-pieces-of-electronic-paper-that-keep-my-self-employed-me-sane.
Pitching tracker sheet
What it is: It tracks all the pitches you send to potential clients.
Why it is useful:
- You build a sort of “pitching archive”;
- You can easily discriminate between the pitches that landed you a gig vs the ones that fell through;
- Building on that information, you can draft a more compelling pitch;
- You end up with a collection of samples you can draw upon when pitching for a similar project.
Here is a snippet of my pitch tracker.
Content tracker sheet
What it is: It tracks your whole writing process from the first draft to payment.
Why it is useful:
- You have the key details of a project all in one place;
- You always know “where you are” in the process – especially if you have several projects going on;
- You have a clear overview of your deadlines and can prioritise your work accordingly;
- You keep track of your invoicing and payments.
Here is a snippet of my content tracker.
Client tracker sheet
What it is: It includes all your clients’ details and the projects you have completed for them.
Why it is useful:
- You create a sort of “customer database”;
- You can immediately recall which project you completed for whom and when;
- You can track the lifetime billing for each client;
- You always know the rate you negotiated with each client;
- You collect your clients’ testimonials in one place – and may chase them if they haven’t provided you with one yet.
Here is a snippet of my client tracker.
Money tracker sheet
What it is: It summarises your financials.
Why it is useful:
- You can track your earnings, expenses, and net profits regularly;
- You immediately know which projects were the most profitable;
- Factoring in your tax deduction amount helps your budgeting;
- Tracking your taxes by project helps you fill in your tax return when the time comes.
Here is a snippet of my money tracker.
4. Taxes anyone?
As briefly mentioned before, taxation is one of the biggest concerns for a business owner. Tax systems are very location specific, and I can’t advise you on this.
My suggestion is: keep your books in order and pay your taxes! If your business is growing, you may also consider hiring an accountant to do it for you.
Side note: keep in mind that some freelancing platforms (e.g. Upwork) may ask you to provide a VAT number and/or your registered business name to withdraw your money from the platform.
5. Grammar-checking and editing tools
“The only kind of writing is rewriting.”Ernest Hemingway
If you are like me, only a short segment of your creative process is spent writing. Most of the work is just editing.
For this reason, I embraced editing tools/programmes.
Premise #1: an editing tool will NOT write your piece for you.
Premise #2: corrections are often based on strict gramm-algorithmic rules that don’t consider the broader context of the phrase/paragraph.
Premise #3: each editing tool I am about to mention has a premium version, but their free one works just as fine.
All in all, I think these programmes can improve your writing and help you with consistency and readability. Just keep in mind that you are the one possessing the original neuronal network, and you have the last word on your piece (literally!).
So here you go:
- Grammarly: correctness, clarity, engagement, delivery, tone
- Ginger: grammar, spelling, vocabulary
- Hemingway: readability
- Yoast: SEO, content readability
- Copyscape: plagiarism
6. Draft your author bio
That may look like a minor concern, but I suggest you not to underestimate the power of a quality author bio.
What it is: An author bio is a brief paragraph about the author of a piece. It is usually placed at the bottom or on the side of the page. It typically comes with an ID picture.
Why it matters: The author bio is like a signature at the end of an article, blog post, or any other written piece. It allows you to get credit for your work, especially if you are guest posting on someone’s else blog or page. That’s why you must care about it.
How to write a good author bio:
- Keep it short;
- Present yourself and what you do in the third person;
- Mention some of your accomplishments;
- Include a link to at least one of your social media profiles or your website;
- Write some fun fact about you (optional);
- Update it from time to time.
Here is my author bio for some tech articles.
I was all set up. My confidence level soared, and I was ready to tackle any challenge. However, having a pitch tracker doesn’t land you a client. You actually need to pitch for that. But how do you write a good pitch? And once you landed the client, which rate do you charge? What if he is not happy with that and you need to negotiate?